Embracing a Bold Vision for a One Water Future
Across the country, water and wastewater utilities are facing myriad challenges ranging from inadequate investment to the strain put on aging water system by climate impacts and extreme weather. Denver Water, the largest water provider in Colorado with 1.5 million customers, illustrates that utilities have the capacity to innovate and rise to these challenges. For its leadership, Denver Water is the 2020 recipient of the US Water Prize for Outstanding Public Sector Organization
Denver Water has adopted a “lead-by-example” approach to its mission. It isn’t “just” a drinking water utility—it’s an influencer in the sector and beyond. Amid almost two decades of drought, Denver Water is implementing a scenario planning process that considers what circumstances might be like in 50 years from now. As a demonstration of what is needed to adapt to an uncertain future, Denver Water embraced an integrated water management strategy for the redevelopment of its 34-acre operations complex. Denver Water hopes this redevelopment will inspire customers to incorporate new ways to use and reuse water in their own projects.
The operation complex redevelopment addressed active rainwater harvesting, on-site black water reuse, passive stormwater irrigation, drought-tolerant landscaping, centralized heating and cooling to minimize potable water use, wastewater effluent streams, stormwater impacts, and energy needs. To implement these innovations, Denver Water faced regulatory limitations regarding localized recycling water. Instead of compromising their vision, Denver Water, along with regional partners, pushed for regulatory changes that led to Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment to add indoor flushing as an approved use for recycled water. The impact of this One Water project is rippling across Colorado as other facilities take advantage of the new recycled water regulations.
Denver Water’s operation complex redevelopment is far from the only example of the utility’s visionary leadership. When the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmental directed the utility to implement a traditional corrosion control process for lead service lines, Denver Water advocated for an alternative that hadn’t yet been tried anywhere in the nation. The utility showed that the alternative would do better in promoting environmental and public health and be less costly. Denver Water ultimately received a variance to pursue their plan and is now testing what may be a better way to address lead issues as part of one of the largest lead replacement programs in the United States.
The Denver Water team’s dedication to being the change they want to see is driving a One Water future across Colorado and beyond. Watch our video about Denver Water below.